Of all the amazing things we saw from the Buffalo Bills’ third straight AFC East winning season, the offensive line was often not one of them. Josh Allen led the NFL in scrambles for first downs on 3rd/4th and long. That sounds awesome! That also means your QB was running for his life on obvious passing downs. NOT GOOD!
To give you a comparison between a mediocre-to-poor OL (Bills) versus a great one (Eagles), here are their times blitzed vs. sacks. Allen was blitzed 144 times, knocked down 43 times, and sacked 33 times. Over in Philly, Jalen Hurts was blitzed more often with 173 but only knocked down 22 times all season.
I know what you’re saying… but Greg, you just picked the best OL in the game to compare to Buffalo. First, isn’t that where Buffalo should be aiming? Second, here are some advanced stats to break the group down as a whole. Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranked the Bills 28th in run blocking and 21st in pass blocking. Football Outsiders (FO) slotted them 20th in their “adjusted line yards” which they say is a formula that takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on the following percentages:
- Losses: 120% value
- 0-4 Yards: 100% value
- 5-10 Yards: 50% value
- 11+ Yards: 0% value
FO also marked the Bills as the 16th-best team in their “stuffed” category which tallies the number of times a team’s running backs were tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage.
In conclusion, the Bills have a lot of work to do along the front five.
The Bills used free agency to bulk up the guard position by adding Connor McGovern and David Edwards. McGovern is seen as the more immediate impact player who slots in to start opposite of his college teammate Ryan Bates. The former Cowboy showed he can play an every-down role last year, starting 16 games for Dallas. As for Edwards, he has experience at both guard spots and gives Buffalo solid depth in a swing role behind his aforementioned teammates.
The Bills haven’t lost an OL from last year to free agency, which may speak volumes. They do, however, have former left guard Rodger Saffold still sitting out there as a subtraction from the 2022 squad. Saffold was thought to be a nice plug-and-play addition for Buffalo last season, but he struggled most of the year. Saffold scored one of the worst PFF grades for a guard of just 45.2, or 72nd of 77 qualified guards.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, the Bills have the worst OL in the AFC East heading into 2023. That could change quickly if McGovern fills the gap at guard and Spencer Brown takes a leap in year three. If those two things happen, I will gladly come back and reevaluate things, but as I sit here writing my AFCE rankings are:
- New York
- New England
The Bills have a chance to gain ground if they address OL and, as I said above, some guys hit. The gap in the division isn’t so big that Buffalo can’t climb out of the basement with relative ease.
The outlook across the entire NFL isn’t much better for the big boys in front of Allen. They are a bottom-third team in almost all metrics including being some of the worst by our friends in the analytics community. Brandon Beane is currently trusting that his tackles will bounce back in 2023. He showed a willingness to make a move at guard by bringing in a pair of guys and a quick trigger to have already moved off of Saffold. If they have two new pieces starting plus can get improvement from Dawkins/Morse/Brown, the Bills could be in line for a substantial jump in front of the quarter-billion dollar man.
The Bills need help at every spot across the line except left tackle, where Bills Mafia still hopes Dion Dawkins has five-plus good years of protecting Allen’s blindside in him. You can also argue it might be the most immediate position of need for Buffalo, which makes my favorite OL pick for Brandon Beane in the 2023 draft of G/T Andrew Voorhees an odd one. Vorhees tore his ACL during the scouting combine, but snagging a top-40 talent early on day three with the understanding he is redshirting is an absolute steal in my opinion. The USC product stands 6’6″ and 310lbs with the frame and ability to play anywhere you want him to. It’s a bummer he won’t see the field in 2023, but you are adding talent at a massive position of need that will upgrade the line for the next decade.
“The Bills have a starter on their current roster for LT, LG, C, and RG. As for RT, they likely have a starter as well in Spencer Brown, a player the team seems to be higher on than fans. I’d still love to see them add competition for that position via the draft and the perfect player to do that should be there at pick #91, Tyler Steen. Steen started at LT for Alabama this past year so would have to make the move across the OL to see the field for Buffalo. Still, Steen is the perfect player for that spot. A highly athletic vertical pass protection specialist is exactly what Buffalo needs to fill out its offensive line. Steen not only should be able to protect Allen’s strong side but also possesses the athleticism to travel with him whenever Allen breaks out to the right side of the pocket,” – @UberHansen.
“It’s no secret the Bills struggled to protect Josh Allen as the 2022 season wore on. Shoring up the tackle position should be a high priority and Darnell Wright would provide that elixir. Having played both right and left tackle, Wright would give the Bills options in versatility while adding competition to the group. Holding great experience (2,746 career snaps) while anchoring the line for Tennessee, Wright kept his QB clean last year, not giving up a sack in over 500 snaps vs the tough SEC! Trading down from pick 27 could allow the Bills to stack picks while still getting Wright with better draft value. He could be a day one starter!” – @Chris_Chous.
“Penn State’s Juice Scruggs is a versatile IOL who played G and C for the Nittany Lions in his two years as a starter. In 2022, he played C and surrendered only one sack and 14 pressures (PFF). Plenty of length (33.25 arms) on a solid frame (6032, 301 lbs), and, while his movement skills could improve, drafting an eventual C who could learn behind Mitch Morse is solid long-term planning. Plus, he makes every all-name team, and what more could you want from day three?” – @LowBuffa.
“Ryan Hayes was a key contributor to a Michigan line that won back-to-back Joe Moore Awards (top college offensive line). A former high school tight end, Hayes is a functional athlete but must work on getting stronger, especially against power rushers. Arm length may push him inside but he could develop into a versatile offensive lineman,” @SportsRoc2.